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Capitalism In Mass Media Essay Research Paper

Capitalism In Mass Media Essay, Research Paper

Capitalism in mass media – E.W.

“Media are special because of the uniqueness of the product the business deals in. The commodity the media business sells is our most precious: news, opinion and ideas.”

(Chadwick 1989:221)

Capitalism and its values are nurtured within the mass media. Popular American films have carefully targeted particular markets to sell the idea of a successful capitalist system. Competition, progression (, technology) and economic rationalism are some of the components that become visible when critically analysing these films. These themes often go unnoticed when there is an emotional narrative to carry the plot, and they appear as a natural aspect of the narrative when they surface. In my analysis, I will be discussing capitalist values and the role of democracy in the media.

The film “You’ve Got Mail” uses themes such as technology and competition in conjunction with romance, naturalising some of capitalism’s values into the character’s lifestyle. The use of the Internet and competing businesses combine to create the story between the main characters. They have two relationships: their anonymous romantic Internet relationship and as rival business owners. As the outcome is reached, we understand that competition and technology are not important to the relationship, when the two meet. It is the emotions (such as love) that overcome any capitalist values that may have affected what was in each characters best interest. In this case, the attention is drawn away from the business aspect of the relationship as if it were the focus; capitalism would be portrayed in a negative light.

The film is aimed at 20-35 yr old females, using unrealistic visions of a compassionate world, where financial profit does not conquer all. The narrative of the developing relationship between the main characters is the focus of the film. The genre “romantic comedy”, would more likely appeal to women, as romantic love is usually marketed to young women early in the mass media. (Through other mediums such as magazines and television.) The use of the Internet and e-mail as a form of correspondence, are fairly recent developments (in comparison to the love story), therefore the film would also appeal to those with an interest in technology.

This film could not connect with, nor appeal to a large audience, as the film’s plot and characters lack depth beyond the standard ‘Hollywood’ mould. “The media’s bland diet of superficial material does not encourage participation in the political process, but rather depoliticises the audience”. (Beder 1997:241) Although the film’s storyline may be numbing and the characters tedious, it can be understood why the audience may wish to identify with them, as the characters live quite comfortably (materially speaking), blind to their actions (as a result of ‘fate’). This brings forward the opportunity to look into the commercial products that could be identified as a natural part of the world these characters live in.

The most obvious commercial product in the film is the computer. Within the computer, there is the brand of computer, the operating system used and the Internet provider. These are frequently screened throughout the film and symbolise a positive form of communication. The computer has no negative traits in this film. The package used in the film (Apple Laptop, Macintosh operating system and America On Line or AOL) is integral to symbolising the value system within the film. That is, tradition (of the love story) in harmony with technology. The phrase “You’ve Got Mail” symbolises anticipation and hope for both characters which supports the optimistic attitude of the film. It is this attitude that makes the film appealing to the audience, as there is an unwillingness to deal with the financial circumstances of the situation. For example, when one character loses her business, her future income is not an issue. This lack of real-life capitalist consequences makes this film, nothing more than a fantasy.

The film supports capitalist values, yet does not deal with the consequences that a capitalist system brings. There are aspects of the film that do portray the big business company as negative, winning over the public with money, yet this is forgotten by the end of the film, as the focus turns to the emotional relationship. The small business closes, as the bigger company takes over the market. “Capitalism has no loyalty to anything but its own process of capital accumulation, no loyalty to anything but itself.” (Parenti, 1986:2) This is expressed in the film, as it is ‘natural’ that the larger company puts the small company out of business. This cannot be challenged, but is a part of capitalism. Parenti describes capitalism’s purpose as seen in the film, (beneath the love story) as not to “build communities, for capitalists will build and destroy communities as investment opportunities dictate. Nor is capitalism dedicated to protecting the family or traditional life ” (1986:1) Although, as Parenti describes it, the community is divided and the traditional business is forced to close, it appears as a natural occurrence.

To watch simply one Popular American film, you have also watched several others. The formula the media uses is the same, dictating our ideas and what we should expect from life. The narrative is used to distract us from becoming active or too involved in political messages or with the reverse purpose (, to make us feel a particular way towards something). Either way, the media numbs us at the media owner’s will. They “set the limits on public discourse and understanding. They may not always mould opinion but they do not always have to. It is enough that they create opinion visibility, giving legitimacy to certain views and illegitimacy to others.” (Parenti 1986:23) When representing an issue Chomsky describes the process: ” naturally they’re going to perceive issues, suppress, control and shape in the interest of the groups they represent, ultimately the interests of private ownership of the economy It is a very narrow system of control ultimately.” (1988a: 675)

This leads to a lack of democracy in the media. Chomsky feels the media is responsible for propaganda, which is dictated by the media owners. This propaganda influences the public towards certain opinions. “The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfil this role requires systematic propaganda.” (Chomsky 1988a: 1) In the case of entertainment, that which is not detrimental to the beliefs of the media owner, (NOT the public,) is the entertainment that receives most public attention and support.

Advertising also dictates what we view, particularly on television. “Advertisers will want, more generally, to avoid programs with serious complexities and disturbing controversies that interfere with the “buying mood”. They seek programs that will lightly entertain and thus fit in with the spirit of the primary purpose of program purchases – the dissemination of a selling message.” (Chomsky 1988b: 17) The advertisers, in effect, pay for the programming, and by avoiding radical or highly contentious programs, they control what programs are aired. This supports how capitalism operates; profit before social need. “The power of money prevails over the needs of the people in more ways than are usually acknowledged.” (Parenti 1986:3)

Through the ownership of media empires, sponsorship and advertising, there is little the public is able to do (at least on a large scale). Even those working within the industry are subject to censorship from above. Chomsky (1988a) and Parenti (1986) both discuss journalists and reporters presenting current issues without outside influence in the news media, but ultimately, the media owner has control. Because of the expendability of the employees and the ever-present threat of dismissal, the media owner dictates what is produced.

The ideology that the media serves our best interests is blatantly false when observing its content closer. In all aspects of the media from entertainment to news, there is constantly the underlying motive to produce something that suits corporate interests. The media is one of many institutions supporting hegemony of capitalism. They use emotional narratives to distract us, often leaving us feeling helpless and unable to take action. The media can entice us to become involved, just as it can dismiss an issue not relevant. It is these decisions, which dictate how the population feels and responds to whatever values the media presents us with.


Beder, S. (1997) Global Spin, Melbourne: Scribe Publications

Chadwick, P. (1989) Media Mates, Australia: Macmillan

Chomsky, N. (1988) Language and Power, New York: Black Rose Books

Chomsky, N. (1988) Manufacturing Consent, USA: Pantheon

Parenti, M. (1986) Inventing Reality, New York: St Martins Press